Bett to call for big pay boost

April 30, 1999

The Bett report will call for millions of pounds more from government to improve pay and conditions for higher education staff.

Firm figures on recommended pay levels by 2002, taking into account inflation and extras, for each grade of employee in the sector are expected to emerge from the report, due out in a month's time.

The report is likely to recommend increased pay, particularly for employees at the bottom and at the top of the salary scale, including professors. High costs are also expected to be involved in redressing pay inequalities between men and women.

At their final meeting last week, Bett committee members agreed that the present ten bargaining groups should fall to two, each overseen by a national council.

This means that support staff unions have not been successful in arguing for single-table bargaining, nor has the Association of University Teachers achieved its demand for a pay-review body.

A further review will take place in three years' time to measure the success of the new two-tier system.

Negotiations still have to take place to decide who will be involved in each bargaining group. It is not clear whether academic-related staff in the Association of University Teachers will have their pay determined by the academic group.

Nor is it yet entirely clear which conditions will be decided at national council and which at bargaining-group level. It is possible that the Trades Union Congress will become involved in helping to decide this issue.

The report is likely to recommend a system of job evaluation, against the wishes of the academic unions. But it is expected to leave it to individual institutions to decide which system they introduce, rather than recommending a national scheme, such as the controversial Higher Education Role Analysis, which has recently been piloted. What it will probably mean is some form of benchmarking to ensure pay levels are consistent between the two bargaining tables.

A key part of the report will be appendices containing the results of surveys on pay levels, numbers of part-time workers and comparisons with other professions.

Not all the unions are happy with the results of these surveys, which suggest some staff are not underpaid.

But there is general agreement that they should be regularly updated and developed in future years to maintain a better picture of what is happening in the sector.

Publication of the report will not be the end of the story. Months of negotiation to sort out the details are expected to follow as the key players consult their members. Ministers could also refuse to fund the recommended pay rises.

The government distanced itself from the review committee from the beginning by refusing to appoint a chairman, although it did put Sir Michael Bett's name forward and has kept a close eye on discussions.

In its submission to Bett, the Department for Education and Employment stressed "the need for pay decisions to reflect a long view of what the economy can afford", adding: "It is important that pay costs should be met within the resources available to the sector and that institutions should be able to manage and control their pay bills."

But it also stated that pay settlements should take account of the need to retain, recruit and motivate staff and improve the quality of teaching in higher education.

Both employers and unions are anxious to distance this year's pay negotiations from Bett's findings.

With the AUT threatening strike action within weeks of the report's publication this could be difficult.

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